Confessions of a Canadian: 02/19/14

Despite its name, the Canadian-related confessions to come from this column have been pretty limited. Sure, I’ve revealed my love for all forms of carbohydrates and my childhood secrets are secrets no more, but when it comes to really talking about Canadian-related things, I sometimes falter. I sometimes forget that I am not just a Canadian living in America (aka someone who draws unnecessary attention to herself with her pronunciation of the word ‘sorry’), but also just a Canadian (someone with a fiercely intense loyalty to her homeland).

Two weekends ago, as I watched the Olympics Opening Ceremony, I felt sad. And lonely, despite the fact that I wasn’t alone. Because even though I’m surrounded by a campus of 20-something-year-olds who live lives relatively similar to mine, I think my heart was the only one tightening at the sight of the Canadian Olympic Team. And I don’t think everyone else’s eyes welled with tears as they saw a group of red and white (no blue) clad athletes marching in. 

Biology (and also the law) tells me that I’m 50 percent American and 50 percent Canadian, and because of that I’ve always tried to be a divided, yet loyal fan. For the Olympics, I decided to stick with that mantra. In sports such as luge, skeleton and snowboarding, I’ll be Team USA and I’ll wish I had a Ralph Lauren red, white and blue knit sweater to go along with my cheering. That said, when it comes to hockey and figure skating, I am Team Canada. It might have something to do with the way ice dancers Tessa and Scott reeled me in this past winter break with their riveting reality TV show, but it definitely also has something to do with the fact that I learned how to skate right around the time I learned how to walk. 

The icy arena is a familiar place to me, and it was in Canada that I felt this familiarity, so because of this, my favored team was easily chosen.

As a child, I spent every Sunday of winter (which in Canada is a pretty extensive season) on a skating rink. My dad taught me when I was still a little tot needing a chair to push and he watched me as I learned to glide on my own. Girl Guide trips (which is Girl Scouts here in America) and class trips were to the ski hill or the ice rink. In Canada, ice is not something you hide away from; instead, you learn to skim by on patches of slippery ground that otherwise might send you flying. 

Cheering for Team Canada feels familiar, and sometimes, in this Land of Unfamiliarity, I desperately long for something that’s a little less foreign and little more Me. 

The Opening Ceremony Saga (and I mean my own personal emotional saga, not the whole One Ring Didn’t Light Up saga) got me thinking about how different America and Canada really are. (Leave it to me to suddenly zero in on the differences during an event that’s supposed to bring the world together.) I was trying to understand why, after almost four years here, Worcester still feels so unfamiliar and why Canada still seems to hold the largest chunk of my heart. 

Because of their blatant similarities (people tend to talk the same, look the same, dress the same), the differences sometimes go unnoticed. Like, how could I be homesick here in America when it’s neighbors with dear ol’ Canada and basically everything’s the same? And then I realized how utterly false that is. Since moving to the States, I have known nothing but different. There are different accents, restaurants, pronunciations, spellings,  food, grading systems, grocery stores, standardized tests (SATs, what are those?), highways, laws, political systems, geographical set up, companies, brands, magazines, heath care programs and, on top of all that, the people are different. And though it’s the people I miss most, I will willingly settle, any day, for just a little bit of familiarity—just a little bit of home

I’m not saying Canada is better. I’m a twenty-two-year-old college student, who am I to say Canada is better? (Except when it comes to hockey, then yes, Canada is better.) What I’m saying, is that to me, Canada is familiar. Like when you go visit your Aunt Sue out in Finland or you study abroad for a semester in Spain, and you love it so much and the whole thing is grand and great, but some days you were just so ready to see something familiar, even if it was just a familiar face in your favorite hometown restaurant. 

When you move to another country, you subconsciously begin this search for a Home Away From Home. A place that maybe isn’t actually your home and that doesn’t actually house your favorite people and your comfy bed, but that feels like home all the same. This search is probably a lot easier for people who aren’t college students, bopping around each year from dorm to dorm in search of a constant.

The forgetting and letting go of Canadian traditions is oftentimes sad, but I’m finding that letting go of material objects and material familiarities is worth it when you’re finding new people on the other side. The longer I’m away from my hometown, the less I long for a Tim Horton’s French vanilla cappuccino or a box of Vanilla Rice Krispies from Foodland, and the more I just long for the people. And this realization, though oftentimes heartbreaking, has also been illuminating. I’ve come to see that what I miss isn’t my home, it’s the people harbored within that home, because they are that home. And in realizing that, I’ve also come to realize that maybe I’ve had a Home Away From Home all along. It could be in Starbucks (the only familiar coffee shop in the US), but it also could be in the kind faces of the people I’ve met along my Great American Journey. Though my surroundings in America have yet to feel familiar, the people already do. 

Travelling back and forth every winter, spring and fall is not always easy; in fact, flying through Newark Airport never is. But for every goodbye I whisper through my ever-present airport tears, three more hellos are said, and with every hello begins the roots of a new tree and a new home. 

I am a plane always waiting to be grounded, and it’s a comforting thought to know that no matter where I land, I’ll have a home waiting for me. 

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